Mérida or Bust — Day Three: Castle Rock, CO, to Amarillo, TX

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,400

Kilometres Driven Today: 630

Total Kilometres Driven: 1,860

Kilometres Left: 3,540

Amount of Trip Completed: 34.44%

It can be freaky how much people know about me because of what I write on the blog, but it also means hosts can make me a lovely dinner to my taste and serve me delicious things like this toasted coconut beer:

I may have fallen in love last night. 😀

I went to bed pretty early and was out the door by about 6:35. My host and some friends meet at Panera’s at 7:30, so I went there to get coffee and do internet stuff before she arrived so she could make some introductions. I forgot how expensive Panera is, but their coffee is good (I had a huge plain coffee, then a refill of hazelnut!) and they owed me a free birthday brownie. 🙂

I had to take a picture of this really odd coloured sky:

Pike’s Peak in the distance

My host showed up around 7:30 with goodies for the road — homemade cinnamon buns — with raisins! It wasn’t until I dug into them this afternoon that I realised there was chocolate in the bag too. 😀

By the time I left Panera’s it was about nine, much later than I’d planned to leave since I knew there was bad weather incoming and I was going to lose an hour. But I also had the wonderfully fast US interstate speeds working in my favour and only a six-hour drive to Amarillo. So I didn’t stress the late departure.

Of course, I didn’t make it far before the coffee had its revenge. I needed fuel anyway, so I picked an exit at random in Colorado Springs.

As it turned out, it was the exit with the Walmart on Razorback Road. So I popped in there to use the bathroom and get a gallon of drinking water, a Chap Stick, and a 98-cent pair of flip-flops. I love it when I can maximise a stop like that. I then went to a conveniently located gas station to get fuel. Fuel prices have been great, by the way, $2.50/gallon to start in Montana and I’m now at $2.19/gallon in Texas.

Some time later, stopped at a rest area in Colorado City, just after Pueblo:

(How are y’all liking the few photos I’ve taken so far on this trip? That’s my “new” iPhone 6 hard at work. I think I’m going to retire my beloved Pentax except for when I’m hiking or in a context where there is a possibility of breakage. I can’t believe the picture quality difference compared to my iPhone 5C!)

The sky was starting to look ominous. I didn’t dilly-dally and instead drove determinedly to and over the Raton Pass (7834 feet or 2388 meters elevation) into Raton, New Mexico. There, I stopped for a very quick bite since it started to snow! This was the real start of my adventure since I was heading east towards Texas instead of going southwest towards Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

The snow didn’t follow me, but very hard rain did. The sky cleared a tad as I crossed the Texas state line, but that didn’t last. I got a break long enough to not drown as I got fuel in Dalhart, but I came into Amarillo in pouring rain that is going to last all weekend. I think I’m travelling with a dark cloud over my head or something…

It had been a super easy day of driving to that point and the time had flown by. But Amarillo was a nightmare not dissimilar to Montreal, with tons of construction and piss-poor signage. My GPS somehow managed to find my hilarious looking hotel (I’ll share a pic after I checked out). My room was a ridiculous 47CAD for the night (booking.com “genius member” perk), so I had very low expectations. Therefore, I was delighted to find a very clean and recently updated room with a fresh bathroom, good WiFi, a mini fridge, and the ability to back up right to my door. Soon as I confirmed that I had enough work to fill tomorrow, I paid for a second night!

I was famished by this time and there was no way I was getting back into my truck, what with the mess of construction outside, even if it was pouring rain. So I pulled on my rain gear and schlepped across the street, under the overpass, and a ways left to the Cracker Barrel (less than 1KM distance). Every time I decide on Cracker Barrel for dinner, I think, “Rae, you’re smarter than that,” and every time, I come out delighted and with no regrets. You just have to order smartly. Tonight, I had a pork chop (honey mustard on the side), with mac & cheese and their brand new Brussels sprout and kale salad! OMG, that was so delicious. 🙂 I’ve been insatiably parched for days and two of their not-too-sweet and made with real lemons lemonade helped immensely with that. I got a third to go to enjoy tomorrow (no extra charge!). 🙂

So I’m in Amarillo through to Sunday morning. Laredo is a much too long hop from here, so I’ll stop somewhere partway that will let me get to Laredo not too late on Monday and have time to do any final preborder things I need to do (like get truck insurance and pesos). That would put me crossing the border on Tuesday, May 2nd, and, as long as things continue to go so smoothly, I’ll be in Mérida by this time next week!

I just hope this weather stops. Pardon the French in this, but isn’t Siri a great personal assistant?! 😀

Gillette, WY, to Walsenburg, CO

No pictures today, I’m sorry. I was in driving mode!

I slept poorly in Gillette and so didn’t get back on the road till nearly 7:45. At least, the hotel provided me with surprisingly decent coffee and a bit of breakfast, so I was able to get going straight away after buying fuel.

It was going to be a very long day, so the plan was to haul ass to just shy of Denver, which would take me to lunchtimeish, the perfect opportunity to pause for a breather and to face the traffic on a full stomach. It would also be half of the day’s mileage, with the second half broken up into a few stops, so the worst of the day would be behind me once I got through Denver.

So I drove and drove and drove. Wyoming is exceedingly beautiful, much like home, only instead of rolling hills, it has peaks. I saw lots of buffalo!

I pulled into the McDonald’s in Douglas to get another coffee and send a proof of life. I came in with my own to-go cup and my coffee was on the house! How many big corporations will let you enjoy a comfy seat in their building, use their WiFi, and give you coffee with you giving them nothing in return?!

It was nearly 1:00 when I got to Loveland, Colorado. I had thought to do Cracker Barrel for lunch, but didn’t want to spend that much time paused since I had errands to run after. So when I saw a sign for a Panera Bread, it was easy to change my mind. The restaurant was really chaotic, but my lunch of a cup of soup and half a sandwich (with an apple to eat later) hit the spot and didn’t take long. Then, it was time to face the Mile-High City.

Thankfully, traffic through Denver wasn’t too bad, just really thick. The trick is to stick to the second lane from the left and just coast through. Once I was past the city, I exited at the Cabela’s in Lone Tree since I needed a new pair of Keens, having worn clean through my last pair in less than a year! Silly me, thinking that I could find sandals in Colorado in October. I was about to leave when a clerk finally freed up and came to ask if he could help me. He confirmed that they had absolutely no sandals beyond some Crocs and cheap flip flops left in the main part of the store, but that I should go comb through the ‘Bargain Cave,’ where I might find something else suitable. Bargain Cave?

He took me there and I went to the large rack of shoes. I’d come in hoping to get the charcoal and black Newport Keens, which would be more neutral than my grey and light blue pair, but now I’d be happy with any solid sandal that would be good for light hiking and walking heaps in Maz. About midway through the rack, I found the brown and black Newports in 8.5, the size of my old pair! Good enough! But they looked a bit big, so I tried them on and they were definitely a half size too large! I wonder which pair was mislabeled… I was really bummed because the rest of the rack appeared to be boots and shoes, but I kept going. The very last pair of shoes on the rack happened to be sandals… and they were black and charcoal Newport Keens. In a size 8. I kid you not. The exact sandals I wanted, in my size, and for almost $30 off. I think the shoes gods were looking out for me!!!

I promptly changed into them because, surprise, the weather has been WARM. It was so nice to get out of my boots and let my toes breathe!

Then, I drove another hour or so to the Apple Store in Colorado Springs. It was easier to find than I had expected in a large retail complex. I’m pretty sure this was my first time ever shopping at a real Apple Store. My experience shopping online through their app store and their products store has been generally atrocious (they completely screwed up my last order, for the very thing I had to pick up today), so I’m not surprised that I came out of the physical store absolutely underwhelmed. You walk in and there is no obvious place to get information. Instead, store clerks wearing grey tee-shirts with a very discreet Apple logo mill about and come up to you. There are tables set up with all the main products (computers, tablets, phones), and there are wall racks for accessories.

No associate greeted me when I came in, so I had a glance around and saw the rack with the adapters at the far end of the store. Of course, the one I wanted, the Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter (so I can hardwire my Mac to the internet this winter) was at the very top of the rack, out of reach. I pretended to reach for it and that got someone’s attention. He got me what I needed then told me to go back to the front of the store and someone would check me out. Did that and that clerk passed me off to someone else in the middle of the store. This third clerk rang me up using a handheld device, then headed somewhere out of my line of sight to get my change. When he came back, he asked if I wanted an emailed or printed receipt. Since this was a business expense, I asked for a printed one. He hit a button on his POS device, then bent down under the table in front of him that held a bunch of iPads and came back up with my receipt!

Talk about inefficient! Yes, the store looks neat and slick, but that was a lot of extra steps since they don’t have an actual till area. I was not impressed and, in fact, felt very intimidated since they tried to upsell me by asking if I was sure I didn’t need anything else and did I want to look at the new iPhones (no thank you, I’ll be getting a free upgrade in the spring)? Apple’s products are great, but I much, much, much prefer shopping at a reseller that knows how to actually sell things!

That was my last stop, so I just had another hour and a bit left to do in the setting sun to reach Walsenburg. I would have liked to get closer to Santa Fe, but I was going to arrive at just shy of 6:00, so that was really as far as I could go since I avoid driving in the dark. By the time I came out of Safeway in Walsenburg with a banana for tomorrow morning, registered at the motel, and brought my bags into the room, it was dark. I actually had to pull out my warm weather clothes, something I wasn’t planning to do till Nogales at the earliest! Even with the sun down, the evening was really pleasantly warm!

I headed to Corine’s restaurant, practically next door, for dinner, which was world apart from the last meal I had there. I guess the moral of the story is not to have the special? I had the chicken fajitas this time and they were excellent! The guac was particularly delicious. I wish I had a fridge here so I could have brought back leftovers, but the portion wasn’t ginormous and I made it through while chatting with a lovely lady from Arkansas.

The Anchor Motel is just as acceptable as it was about five months ago and only $50 a night. Even with my $92 room last night (!!!), I am going to be well under budget for accommodation since I got such a good deal in Nogales. Fuel is also much cheaper than I had budgeted for, so even with the higher prices in Mexico, I’ll be well under budget for that, too. Pretty sure this is the first trip of my life that’s going to cost me less than I had budgeted for!

I’m meeting John for brunch in Santa Fe tomorrow, then we’ll see how far I get. I just realised that I’ll gain an hour Monday so if I want to stop early tomorrow, and do a longer day Monday, that will be fine. I just have to make sure I have time to stop at the Walmart in Benson to do my final errands (and figure out how to fit a few boxes of cat litter into my truck) and not get to Nogales tooo late. Hopefully, the shoe gods will still be with me and I’ll find a pair or two of Earth Spirit brand sandals to supplement my Keens for when I want to dress up a bit more. I still have the pair I picked up in May, of course, but I’m afraid I’ll wear them clean through before the winter’s over. It doesn’t matter how much I pay for a pair of sandals, they rarely last me longer than a season, so I’m glad that Earth Spirit is such a reasonably priced brand for the quality you get. Wish I could say the same for Keen…

Off to bed. I want to be on the road by 7:00 tomorrow!

Walsenburg, CO, to Cheyenne, WY

There really isn’t anything interesting to report about today, I’m afraid. If you were planning to go to bed soon, keep reading as I’m sure you’ll fall asleep halfway through. 😀

I stayed at the Anchor Motel in Walsenburg and it was a great stay. The room was $50 with the tax. The motel is located at the quiet end of Main Street so there was almost no road noise. The room was very dark and the bed nearly as comfortable as the one in John’s RV. I only slept six hours straight through, but they were solid hours, and then I snoozed for another two and a half. 🙂 The room itself was neat, clean, and not worn or shabby even though it hadn’t been updated in my lifetime, I’m sure (except for that mattress!). I like that it had a proper desk and chair and that the shower was hot with good pressure.

The only negative was that they didn’t offer coffee. I did a quick Google search and found a coffee shop a couple of blocks away. I drove because it was pouring rain. The lady working the shop was a complete flake, but the coffee and scone were both excellent.

I didn’t leave till nearly 10:30 since I wasn’t doing too much mileage today. I had to drive through downtown Walsenburg and wished the weather would have been nicer as I would have stayed for a bit to poke through the antique shops, but it was definitely not weather for walking around. The streets were deserted, it was just that nasty and miserable.

I bought fuel before getting on I-25 and then headed north. By 11:30, I was ready for another coffee and getting peckish. So when I passed near Pueblo a sign for a Cracker Barrel, my guilty pleasure, I decided to stop for lunch. Service was unbelievably slow because the restaurant was packed, but my server was attentive, the coffee kept coming, and I had a full charged phone with good service, so I didn’t care.

Next stop was the Walmart in Colorado Springs because the forecast for the weekend is just more and more wet and I needed at the very least some waterproof footwear and hoped to find a fleece hoodie and some sort of waterproof windbreaker. I found a really cute pair of rubber booties for $15, but struck out on outerwear. They only had summer stuff. I didn’t think to check the time and headed to a Target, where I struck out, too. It was only as I was about to head to JC Penney’s that I thought to look at the clock and realised that at the rate I was going, I was going to hit Denver at 3:00, right at the start of rush hour! Moron!

By this point, I was so deep into Colorado Springs and away from I-25 that I had to drive 15KM to get back on it, so I got a chance to see quite a bit of the town. It’s really nothing special. The name Colorado Springs features on two favourite TV shows of mine, Dr. Quinn and Stargate, but of course those Colorado Springs have nothing to do with reality. I’ve been to the Stargate Colorado Springs; it looks suspiciously like the Greater Vancouver Area. 😀

From Target, I hurried back to the truck and drove and drove and drove, not daring to take any time to stop even though I passed a Cabela’s where I could have gotten what I needed.

Heading out of Colorado Springs into Denver.

Heading out of Colorado Springs into Denver.

Traffic through Denver was thick and slow, but fluid, and I made it through in 30 minutes flat. Phew! Only the scenery around the city looked familiar to me after 20 years. There was a bit of clearing and a wisp of blue sky past Denver, but it didn’t last.

Castle Rock.

Castle Rock.

I pushed on from Denver, with the plan being to stop in Cheyenne for the night. That was as far as I was willing to go tonight and it would mean a reasonable day tomorrow to Mount Rushmore.

Something tells me the Wyoming border is approaching.

Something tells me the Wyoming border is approaching.

I was right. :)

I was right. 🙂

It started to sleet heavily as I crossed the Wyoming state line. I pulled into the rest area to do some motel research and found the pickings dire. There is tons of accommodation, but it’s firmly divided between luxury accommodation and roach motels with barely any middle ground. I read recent review after recent review of motels in the $70 range that are the cheapest in the area pricewise and have bedbugs and other major issues. It looked like my two best options were the iffy Motel 6 (middling reviews) and the Super 8 (great reviews, but pricey at over 100USD. Yes, for a Super 8!!!).

I came into town and checked a couple of the better reviewed non-chain motels and they were terrifying! The cheapest one I could find was $75 and I’m not sure I would have used the bathroom! I went to the Motel 6, which was $50 and right on budget, but there were four people ahead of me in line complaining about their rooms. So I headed to the Super 8 and was quoted $83 with the tax, much better than the online rate, and it includes a basic breakfast of toast, fruit, and coffee. I really wasn’t happy dropping 100CAD, but I was done shopping for a bed and the room was nice and about as far from the railroad tracks as I can hope to be.

There were no food options period within walking distance (which I would have done even in the sleet to avoid getting back in my truck), so I resigned myself to either not eating or doing more driving, neither option being particularly appealing. I searched for pizza and found a Little Caesar’s 10 minutes away, so that was perfect. I made it there without incident and they had my favourite $5 pizza (sausage) ready, so I took that as a sign that I’d made the right dinner choice!

I got back to the motel and called Zenni Optical between slices of pizza. My latest order is taking a bit longer than usual to process, so it won’t make it to Mount Rushmore by Friday, as I had hoped. I was able to have the shipping addressed changed to home, so now I don’t have to worry about having the order sent on to me by reader and host Vicki.

I’m so close to home I can almost smell it… I am really glad to be taking in the Black Hills this weekend and still want to make the relatively minor detour there, but wish the weather was looking better so I could enjoy my stay more. I’m getting to Mt. Rushmore later tomorrow afternoon and will be working Thursday and Friday. Vicki, a friend of hers, and I are going to do touristy stuff over the weekend, including Mt. Rushmore and the town of Deadwood. Monday, it’s off to Devils Tower and then an overnight in Scobey. I can’t believe I’ll be home this day next week.